What are Title Deeds?

Title Deeds are physical legal documents that prove the chain of ownership to a piece of land or property.  They are becoming less common as since the late 1980’s it has been compulsory to register any sale or purchase of land or property with HM Land Registry who maintain a centralised, digital database.  In addition, the Land Registration Act 2002 which came into effect in October 2003 requires property transactions such as deeds of gift, leases of more than 7 years (or with more than 7 years to run) and the creation of a first mortgage to be registered.

Compulsory registration was phased in gradually in different areas of the UK and therefore if the property or land in question was purchased prior to the late 1980’s you may find that its details are not held on the central register.

Losing the Title Deeds to Registered Property or Land

If Title Deeds are mislaid or destroyed and the property or land is registered, a simple check with Land Registry will provide details of ownership. Often Land Registry will hold electronic versions of documents associated with the property which can be downloaded from their website for a small fee.  The loss of paper Title Deeds, therefore, becomes irrelevant.

For peace of mind, we recommend that anyone still holding physical Title Deeds to unregistered property or land should go through the process of First Registration with Land Registry. Any property lawyer can take you through this straightforward process which removes the ongoing risk of losing the Title Deeds in the future.  This is known as “voluntary” first registration of title.

Losing the Title Deeds to Unregistered Property or Land

If you wish to sell an unregistered property or land you will need to provide the Title Deeds to prove your ownership. Unfortunately, Title Deeds do get lost over time, whether through lack of careful storage, house fires or commonly where an elderly parent dies without passing on details of their finances.

The process of replacing lost Title Deeds is more complicated when property or land is unregistered. If you are unable to locate them, the first step is to contact the solicitor/conveyancer, mortgage company or bank that dealt with the purchase as they may be holding the deeds on your behalf.  It was common for mortgage lenders to offer to store deeds in the past as it meant they were holding them already if they needed to repossess a property.

If you still cannot locate your Title Deeds then you will need to apply to HM Land Registry for first registration based on a Statement of Truth.

Applying for First Registration based on a Statement of Truth

This can be a more complex process than a standard first registration as it involves:

  • completing the prescribed registration forms
  • providing HM Land Registry with a fully factual account of the circumstances leading to the loss or destruction of the original Title Deeds
  • supporting your application with any documents relating to the property and your history of its ownership. Death certificates, probate documents, transfer papers, conveyancing letters, mortgage statements and utility bills may all prove helpful to support your claim

You can also submit a Statutory Declaration from neighbours or third parties who can confirm your ownership as long it is witnessed by Land Registry requirements. Enclosing plans of neighbouring properties will help to confirm the boundaries of your own.  Land Registry may send a surveyor to check the property or land and its boundaries.

Timescale for obtaining first registration

You should be aware that it can take many months at present for Land Registry to process applications for first registration.  It is therefore important to consider whether you wish to apply for registration well in advance of any specific plans to sell the property or otherwise deal with it.   This is of particular importance if the Title Deeds have been lost or destroyed.

Obtaining Possessory Title

When first registration is granted via a Statement of Truth it is normal practice for Land Registry to issue a “possessory title.” This means that your ownership is subject to another party being able to prove a better claim than you.  Once the possessory title is held for a period of 12 years you can then apply for an “absolute title” which is what you would obtain had you held the deeds in the first instance.

It is vital that you check the documents relating to the possessory title carefully to ensure there will not be any issues in the event you sell the property or land prior to the absolute title being granted. There are strict timeframes for dealing with any queries or disputes and therefore we would strongly recommend you engage the services of a local conveyancing solicitor.

How Backhouse Solicitors can help

The Backhouse Solicitors Conveyancing Team were the first in Chelmsford to qualify for the Law Society’s Conveyancing Quality Scheme Accreditation (CQS), the mark of Excellence for the conveyancing process.  You can rest assured that should you need to apply for first registration the matter will be handled to the highest standard by our specialist property lawyers and reliable and friendly advice is guaranteed!

For more information regarding lost title deeds, first registration or any other property related matter please contact our Conveyancing Team on 01245 893400 or via email at conveyancing@backhouse-solicitors.co.uk

The Backhouse Conveyancing Team

01245 893400